Whether motivated by health, environmental, or ethical reasons, more and more people are choosing to adopt a partly plant-based or fully vegan diet. By one recent estimate, 5 percent of US consumers identify as vegan and 55 percent of Millennials self-identify as flexitarian. Anyone considering going plant-based has likely heard about the optimal performance benefits of avoiding meat and dairy, as athletes like Tom Brady, Novak Djokovic, Chris Paul, and Venus Williams choose to compete while eating a variety of plant-focused diets, from partly plant-based to strictly vegan.
The message that veganism is a sustainable, healthy lifestyle gets undermined when plant-based celebrities, such as Miley Cirus, decide to give up being vegan and go back to eating meat, as she did in 2020. Of course, everyone is entitled to eat whatever they want, but the issues that motivated these celebrities – such as Liam Hemsworth, Mike Tyson and others – to stop eating vegan could have been solved without adding animal products or fish back into their diets. It all comes down to planning, researching, and eating a wide range of plants.
Here is a closer look at some well-known celebrities who ended their vegan diet, and how they could have kept going, by finding the nutrients they needed from plant-based foods. The point isn’t to coax them to eat a vegan diet, but to inform you and anyone else who reads their reasoning, to understand that when it comes to a healthy, well-balanced diet, there are plant-based options that allow for you to get all the nutrients your body needs.
Celebrities Who Stopped Being Vegan, and How They Could Have Kept Going
Miley Cyrus is no longer vegan
After several years as an outspoken vegan, animal rights activist who cried after eating fish the one time that her then-husband grilled it for her, Miley Cyrus told fans she ditched her plant-based diet in 2020 in favor of pescetarianism (eating fish but not meat). Cyrus made the transition because she believed she was deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. She explained that her “brain wasn’t functioning properly” in a 2020 interview on The Joe Rogan Experience.
Often called brain fog (or mild cognitive impairment) this state of lack of focus or memory lapse is common in older adults and can be caused by a myriad of issues, many of which are unrelated to diet. Lack of sleep, low blood sugar, or even COVID can all contribute to brain fog. So Cyrus’s attribution that her vegan diet was the sole cause of her brain fog could be off the mark.
There are 3 types of Omega 3s: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Fish are a rich source of the long-chain omega-3s DHA and EPA, which are beneficial for the brain, but so are algae oil supplements, which can provide a healthy dose of brain-boosting Omega-3s.
In addition, our bodies convert some of the short-chain omega-3 ALA from the food we eat into DHA and EPA, typically enough to maintain brain health and function. Excellent sources of ALA include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and brussels sprouts.
A list of plant-based foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids includes:
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Brussel Sprouts
- Perilla Oil
- Algal Oil
There may be some merit to Cyrus’s claim since not everyone is efficient at converting ALA into DHA and EPA, which are the active forms of Omega-3 your body needs. If she wasn’t eating enough foods high in ALA or couldn’t convert sufficient amounts into EPA/DHA (and wasn’t supplementing algae oil), she may have been low in omega-3s and experienced brain fog.
“ALA is the precursor to DHA and EPA, so it must go through a conversion process in the body. Unfortunately, this conversion process is not efficient in most people,” explains Ryan Andrews, MS, of Precision Nutrition. “The only way to get a consistently reliable amount of DHA and EPA on a plant-based diet would be through algae oil supplementation.”
Anne Hathaway gave up her vegan diet because of low energy.
Anne Hathaway was once plant-based
Actor Anne Hathaway stopped eating vegan while filming the movie Interstellar due to the physical demands of wearing a bulky spacesuit every day, Hathaway revealed to Harper’s Bazaar back in 2014. Hathaway says she “just didn’t feel good or healthy, not strong” during her time as a vegan and that after eating salmon her “brain felt like a computer rebooting.”
Our energy levels are related to what we eat, but a vegan diet can be planned out to include nutrients that give us energy, focus, and mental sharpness, says Jinan Banna, PhD, RD, a Registered Dietitian and associate professor at the University of Hawaii. Often times someone eating vegan can lack specific nutrients and minerals needed to provide cells with energy, she adds. “If you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients, such as iron, you may have low energy,” Banna explains
“Iron is needed to transport oxygen in the body, which is essential for energy.” Good plant-based sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, spinach, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and fortified cereals. When combined with vitamin C (abundant in many fruits and vegetables), iron absorption can increase by 67 percent.
A lack of calories can also contribute to low energy
Many people don’t realize that you may need to eat more food to get enough energy when switching to a vegan diet because plants are generally less calorically dense than animal products. Also, you need to eat more calories if you’re physically active, as many performers and athletes are. Calorie-dense plant-based foods include legumes, avocados, dates, and any type of nut butter.
To ensure you’re getting enough calories, eat more healthy fats, Banna suggests. Fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient, containing nine calories per gram compared to carbs and protein which provide four calories per gram. “Add more avocado, nuts, nut butter, olive oil, and tahini to your diet for a calorie boost. Smoothies are another great option for getting more calories,” the RD advises.
Liam Hemsworth stopped eating vegan after getting kidney stones
Actor Liam Hemsworth scrapped his vegan diet in 2019 after getting kidney stones. “I was vegan for almost four years, and then [in] February of last year I was feeling lethargic. Then I got a kidney stone. It was one of the most painful weeks of my life,” Hemsworth told Men’s Health in 2020. Hemsworth suffered from a calcium-oxalate kidney stone, the most common type according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Calcium-oxalate kidney stones are caused by too many oxalates in the urine, which can crystalize and form a solid “stone.”
“Every morning I was having five handfuls of spinach, and then almond milk, almond butter, and also some vegan protein in a smoothie,” Hemsworth told Men’s Health at the time. Considering that some of the highest oxalate foods are spinach, almonds, beets, chard, and beans, it’s no wonder Hemsworth developed a kidney stone. “If you eat a lot of oxalate-rich foods like leafy greens or nuts – foods that might be more common in a vegan diet – you’re increasing your chance of getting kidney stones,” warns Dr. Koushik Shaw, MD, a urologist at the Austin Urology Institute.
It’s easy to blame a vegan diet as the source of Hemsworth’s kidney stone. After all, his diet did veer toward the extreme oxalate end of the spectrum. But a lack of variety in any diet can cause problems down the road. The fact that he ate plants exclusively without varying the choices means not getting a diverse spectrum of nutrients, and vitamins and building up a healthy microbiome – since the bacteria in your gut thrive on multiple types of foods, not the same food over and over again.
Eating five handfuls of spinach every day is pounding your kidneys with far too many oxalates. (And don’t forget his morning smoothie included almond butter and almond milk, two other high-oxalate sources.)
Hemsworth might have been able to avoid giving up a vegan approach if he had included more variety. For example, instead of spinach every day, swap it out for kale or bok choy — two low-oxalate, nutrient-dense greens. Replace the almond milk with oat milk or pea milk. Snack on walnuts or cashews instead of only almonds, or replace the almond butter with peanut or sunflower butter. Whenever you can, choose a variety to strengthen your overall health and immune system.
Calcium is important on a vegan diet
Lack of calcium in the diet can also contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Eating foods high in calcium is the best way for your kidneys to flush out oxalates and avoid forming stones because calcium binds with oxalates in the intestines before entering the kidneys, according to the NKF. Foods like kale, bok choy, broccoli, tofu, and fortified non-dairy milk are all excellent sources of calcium and also are low in oxalates.
To help keep kidney stones at bay, Dr. Shaw recommends you stay hydrated, don’t eat too much protein, consume less sodium, avoid vitamin C supplements, and include insoluble fiber in your diet.
Bottom Line: A well-planned vegan diet offers all the nutrrients your body needs
Whether you’re a seasoned plant-based eater or new to ta vegan diet, do your research or speak with a dietitian who can help you plan a healthy, balanced vegan diet to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need including Omega-3s, calcium and iron.
For more expert advice, visit The Beet’s Health & Nutrition articles.